The election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013, bringing to an end a era of damaging rule under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the signing of ‘JCPOA’ (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) between Iran and the 5+1 to resolve Iran’s complex nuclear crisis, and finally, the enthusiastic support given to non-radical forces in the recent parliamentary elections, are reflective of a coherent desire on the part of a majority of Iranians to avert continually adverse social and economic crisis or conflict with the outside world.
The hope was (and still is) that Iran’s important diplomatic breakthrough, resulting in the removal of crippling sanctions that had brought unprecedented damage to the Iranian economy, would be followed by a series of further positive moves. It was envisioned that by ending Iran’s international isolation, the prevailing socio-political stability within Iran, would serves as a catalyst for attracting much needed foreign investments for rejuvenating the country’s economy and improving the daily lives of its citizens.
Nonetheless, a year on, irrespective of all the encouraging hype, the extent of investments and technology transfers needed to ‘kick-start’ the reconstruction of Iran’s economy, has not matched previous expectation levels due to new and unforeseen challenges.
Removing all barriers and paving the way for the flow of capital and technology to Iran remains at the helm of all priorities for the Rouhani government. But dealing with this priority on the part of his administration, will prove no less taxing than the nuclear deal that was reached a year ago.
The Unresolved ‘Murky’ Issues
Ensuring the success of diplomatic efforts aimed at reaching a nuclear accord for removing sanctions and preventing an unwanted war was a matter of great importance for both Iran and the 5+1. However, the accord that was ultimately reached related entirely to the nuclear dispute and did not address other areas of contention between Iran and the West, and in particular, the US. In the aftermath of the agreement, the US undertook to remove all sanction related to ‘proliferation’ and not to create barriers for the resumption of Iranian economic ties with international markets. Although, most Iranian officials, including the Supreme Leader, had expected a broader interpretation of this agreement, nonetheless, all negotiating parties were fully cognizant of the fact that all other sanctions imposed on Iran in the course of the past 37 years (i.e. sanctions relating to ‘human rights’, ‘terrorism’, ‘ballistic missile testing’, etc.) would remain fully in place.
Today, it is for this reason that international banking institutions, especially European banks, contrary to previous expectations are not moving forward with the speed that was expected. Their reluctance is due to the fact that these institutions do not wish risking heavy fines from the US Treasury for unwittingly doing business with ‘front companies’ attached to still sanctioned individuals or organizations such as the IRGC. To overcome such fears due to their own lack of ‘due diligence’ capabilities, they require a written guarantee from the US government removing any fear of reprisals – something that has not happened.
Making New Opportunities
The danger today is that with the gradual erosion of the good will that was created last year, events could take a turn that might project the nuclear agreement not just as a major liability for the Rouhani government, but also as a potential instrument to be used against it in the upcoming 2017 presidential election.
In his recent talks with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kerry has consistently asserted that the US government views the provisions of JCPOA with good will and has at no time discouraged European banks from cooperating with their Iranian counterparts. Yet Mr. Kerry’s words have so far failed to have the required impact, given that the US treasury, pressured by Congress and public opinion continues to view matters with a much less trusting disposition towards Iran.
For their part, Iranian officials are still unable to make use of the golden opportunity made available to the Iranian people. It appears, that the country continues to remain hostage to the whims of certain elements who persist to muddy the water with bellicose provocations in defiance of public opinion. Continued anti-American rhetoric on the part of high-ranking Iranian officials further poisons the atmosphere by feeding hardline anti-Iran elements in the US Congress and media while at the same time undermining the more sensible positions adopted by the likes of Obama and Kerry. As a result, the much-needed flow of foreign investment and technology for revamping the economy and improving the lives of ordinary people simply fails to materialize.
It is clear that unless new and urgent measures, in both Iran’s foreign and domestic policies, are put into place, the ‘window of opportunity’ that was opened in July 2015 to consolidate relations with the West, will prove incapable of reviving Iran’s ailing economy without further major delays. Such a setback, could in all probability – at least in the shorter term – become further exacerbated with the accession to the US presidency of either of the current presidential front runners, whose rhetoric are far less accommodating to Iran than those of Obama administration.
The Need for Brinkmanship in Iran
It is a critical priority that the opportunities offered by JCPOA to Iran, especially for economic reconstruction, are used to maximum effect. In the current troubled international atmosphere, highlighting the benefits of Western cooperation with Iran on a number of key foreign policy issues can address this objective. These areas can include:
1. Closer cooperation and coordination in the war against ISIS and preventing the spread of its nefarious ideology in the Middle East and beyond.
2. Reaching an acceptable modus vivendi for resolving the civil war in Syria.
3. A positive and constructive involvement by Iran to stem the flow of migration from places such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as areas under ISIS control.
4. The realization by the West, in the wake of the recent deadly attacks in Europe, that Sunni extremists recruited from the ranks of impoverished Sunni Muslim immigrants across Europe and supported by wealthy proponents of Wahhabism – not Shia Moslems – pose the greatest direct danger to them and their way of life.
A New Domestic Outlook
Also, progress towards greater Iranian rapprochement with the international community leading to major capital investments commensurate to Iran’s size and potential, have been seriously damaged by ongoing squabbling between competing political factions inside the country.
Only meaningful intervention from ‘the top’ aimed at alleviating these fears and promoting ‘consensus building’ along with a new ‘political realignment’ in line with new domestic realities has any real chance of containing this dilemma.
Given Iran’s all important internal political stability, such a ‘realignment’, aided by some form of a ‘conditional amnesty aimed at promoting national reconciliation’ is today capable of turning things around, projecting Iran as a reliable partner in times of international turmoil with the direct benefit for the Iranian people of bringing to realization the kind of opportunities promised a year ago by JCPOA for economic growth and national prosperity.
Dr Mehrdad Khonsari is a former Iraninan diplomat. His views are not endorsed by Euronews.